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Sound waves from fin whale songs might help us research the crust of the planet

A recent research released this week in Science reveals that the songs of fin whales can be used for seismic imaging of the oceanic crust, presenting scientists with an innovative alternative to traditional surveying.

Sound waves from fin whale songs might help us research the crust of the planet
12.02.2021 20:11

Fin whale songs, one of the loudest animal calls in the ocean, can be used to learn about the structure of Earth’s crust.

Fin whale songs contain signals that are reflected and refracted within the crust , including the sediment and the solid rock layers beneath. 

 Between 2012 and 2013, the researchers deployed 54 ocean-bottom seismometer (OBS) stations to record seismic activity. Four stations recorded six fin whale songs patterns of repeated vocalisation that ranged from 2.5 to nearly 5 hours long.

John Nabelek, a professor in Oregon State University’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences “People in the past have used whale calls to track whales and study whale behavior. We thought maybe we can study the Earth using those calls,” said.

The researchers tested this on the seafloor surrounding the OBS stations and found that the whale songs could show the thickness of the top sediment layers. Their results matched thickness values previously observed by geologists for layers of the same crustal age.

Nabelek was studying earthquakes from a network of 54 ocean-bottom seismometers placed along the Blanco transform fault, which at its closest is about 100 miles off Cape Blanco on the Oregon Coast.

Future research could include using machine learning to automate the process of identifying whale songs and developing images of their surroundings, Nabelek said.